Saudi Arabia’s Buys Into Sports as an Image Builder

Foreign Policy Brief #83 | By: Reilly Fitzgerald | July 3, 2023
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Saudi Arabia is undergoing a massive public relations revolution that is heavily focused on the investment, and promotion of, global sports. The arrival of global football phenom, Cristiano Ronaldo (arguably one of the most famous athletes ever) made a historic move to Saudi Pro League team Al-Nassr earlier this year. Saudi Arabia, as reported previously, has had their hands involved heavily in creating a second professional golf tour to rival the PGA tour. The details are not entirely clear yet, however, the two golf leagues have prepared to merge into one. 

Saudi Arabia is attempting to invest in areas that will allow them to maintain their financial status in the world, after the planet has moved away from fossil fuels and oil. This is bankrolled by the Saudi’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) which has done a remarkably good job laying out all of their investment plans and ideas, even outside of the sports world. But the question remains, is Saudi Arabia doing this to perhaps try to mask or wash away a fraction of the horrific human rights abuses that they are guilty of, or is this an attempt to genuinely move the world in a better direction free of oil?


The PGA Tour is one of the most iconic sports leagues in the world. LIV Golf has changed the way professional golf works – it has added a more dynamic way of play, involving teams and ways to expedite the time it takes to play a golf tournament. They have expanded the number of golfers who win money at tournaments; and they have been criticized by some for the amount of money that they are willing to pay the golfers in the league as well as the economic perks given to these athletes. Oh, and not to mention that LIV streamed all of their tournaments on YouTube, for free – which seems insane in the world of digital streaming. Needless to say, PGA and LIV have not been getting along very well in the last few years due to these massive differences. 

However, the PGA Tour and LIV Golf have decided to merge together, along with the European DP World Tour, to create a new entity. It remains to be solidified entirely and brought into fruition. At least, according to a report by CNBC, the PIF/LIV Golf will be a minority stakeholder in this new arrangement; but they still plan to invest millions of dollars into the venture. This new merger will eliminate the need for any and all pending lawsuits between the two major golf leagues; it will also alleviate any punishments given to individual golfers by the PGA for switching to compete with the LIV Golf tour.

The US Senate, on July 11th, is planning on having a hearing where the parties involved in this deal will testify; as the Justice Department is looking into antitrust allegations connected to the three leagues joining forces. There are questions about whether the PGA players who did not join the LIV tour will be compensated, and the merger has yet to be approved by the PGA’s player board of directors.

Saudi Arabia’s millions of dollars of investment into sports, especially football (or soccer for some readers), is starting to bear fruit – the Saudi PIF owns English Premier League club Newcastle United, which has just qualified for the UEFA Champions League for next season; domestically, the PIF owns severally teams in Saudi Arabia – most notably, Al-Nassr; the team that signed Cristiano Ronaldo. Several other major stars of world football have signed with Saudi Arabian teams such as Karim Benzema (current winner of the Ballon D’or) from Real Madrid in Spain’s La Liga, Ruben Neves from Wolves in the English Premier League, N’Golo Kante from England’s Chelsea FC, Edouard Mendy also from Chelsea FC, and many more will sign over the summer as well. 

The important question to be asking, as global citizens, is does Saudi Arabia seriously believe that this attempt at ‘sports-washing’ will make people forget about their human rights abuses? The murder of journalist Jamal Khassogi? Their brutal war in Yemen? Or their treatment of women as 2nd class citizens?

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